There’s a pretty good chance the study itself that Environment Canada has commissioned to determine the effects of the fumigant chloropicrin on Prince Edward Island groundwater will not be harmful to our environment.
The study, after all, will be conducted on just five acres of strawberry runner plant production.
Although this is of little comfort to people living near the test site, it’s not the study that’s so worrisome; it’s what might happen after the study is completed, should the P.E.I. Department of Environment approve the fumigant’s use for P.E.I. For, even if the study does not find evidence of contaminated groundwater in a backfield somewhere, there would always be the risk of something going wrong in some field at some point in the future.
So it is with pesticides and chemicals that have potential to cause environmental harm.
Of course, none of us are perfect. If we were we would never have progressed to horseless carriages. To some extent we are all causing some measure of harm to our environment even if it is with the gadgets we use and the packaging we discard.
With regards to the use of fumigants to control insects, weeds, nematodes and pathogens in the soil it should be noted even this is not new. Indeed, the chloropicrin study is only being conducted because another fumigant, methyl bromide currently used on a West Prince strawberry farm, is being phased out internationally, and chloropicrin is seen as perhaps its best alternative.
Methyl bromide has, actually, already been banned because it can deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, but Canada has so far been able to get an exemption to the ban because of a lack of reasonable alternatives to methyl bromide.
A University of California report into methyl bromide alternatives points to the benefits of fumigants in growing crops. It refers to a 1999 study that found strawberry yields to be 94 per cent higher with methyl bromide fumigation than without fumigation.
But the ozone layer is worth protecting and so is the environment closer to the ground.
In an ideal world all foods would be grown without the use of chemicals, but we know only what is grown in our backyards. We eat our rice and our fruits and vegetables without giving much thought to where or how they were grown.
Any change that could negatively affect our environment, whether it’s the lifting of the moratorium on deepwater wells, introducing a new chemical or fracking for natural gas, needs to be closely scrutinized, and the environment needs to be given greater weight than profits in deciding what gets approval.